What You Should Know About Attorney Billing in Divorce and Family Law Cases

July 24, 2015
By Clifford Petroske

There are special rules which govern attorney billing in New York, and there are particular requirements for attorneys handling domestic relations matters (divorce, child custody, child support, etc.).  You should never hire, nor continue to work with, any lawyer who doesn’t comply with these rules:


  • The attorney is required to provide you with a copy of the Statement of Client’s Rights and Responsibilities at your initial consultation prior to signing a written retainer agreement to represent you.
  • The attorney is required to provide you with a written retainer agreement stating the services to be provided and the details of the fee arrangement.  Some attorneys charge flat fees for simple uncontested matters.  In most cases, though, you will be asked to pay a retainer deposit, and you will be billed by the hour.  You will also be billed for out-of-pocket costs such as a fee charged by the County Clerk for filing a document, or a process server or witness fee.
  • The attorney cannot charge a fee which is contingent on securing your divorce, or obtaining child custody or visitation, or is in any way determined by reference to the amount of support or property distribution awarded in your case.
  • The attorney cannot charge a non-refundable deposit.  If your relationship with the attorney ends before the conclusion of your case, the attorney is required to refund any part of your deposit which has not been billed for legal services or costs.
  • You should expect to receive an itemized bill from your attorney at least every sixty days.  The attorney may not charge you for time spent discussing your bill.
  • In most cases, in the event of a fee dispute with your attorney, you have the right to seek arbitration.  You should contact the Bar Association in the county where the attorney maintains his/her office, or ask your attorney for the arbitration package.
  • You have the right to end your attorney-client relationship at any time, but if you owe an outstanding balance, the attorney has a right to retain your file until the balance is satisfied.